One of the most emotionally complex and difficult things a person can experience in life is taking care of a sick elderly parent. It is very heartbreaking to see our once fearless and agile parents falling ill, growing weak and unable to do basic things for themselves.
As hard as this is, some women are devoting incredible amounts of time and energy into making sure they can do for their parents what their parents did for them – taking care of them with love in their most vulnerable state. They get sad, exhausted and overwhelmed, but they do it anyway. One of such strong women is Uriel Oputa.
In a chat with Sola Abe for Woman.NG, Uriel talks about her mother.
Mrs. Blessing Oputa – Uriel’s mother
Although, she’s fragile, she can’t really remember things, so much that she sometimes forgets who her daughter is; Mrs. Blessing Oputa remains her daughter’s biggest inspiration.
At just 36 years old, Uriel’s mother lost her husband, leaving her to care for five children. Uriel was only two years old at the time but she grew up to see her mother work so hard to take care of her and her siblings.
“I grew up in the UK but my dad died when I was two years old, so I didn’t grow up in a household with a father. My mum was my father and is my mother.”
Uriel’s mum suffers from dementia – a chronic or persistent disorder of the mental processes caused by brain disease or injury and marked by memory disorders, personality changes and impaired reasoning.
She and her brothers had observed the obvious but unbelievable change in their mother’s behavior and were confused. They took her to the hospital and there, the illness was diagnosed.
“We started to notice quite early because we’ll be watching stuffs and she’ll be asking you the same questions over again. One day, she tried to cook chicken but ended up putting the whole chicken packet with the plastic inside the microwave. If nobody came at the right time, the place would have exploded. She’ll be cooking, frying something, everywhere will be smoky and she won’t notice. She’ll come inside the house, she will leave the front door open and she won’t know. It was very scary. My mom would normally go to work and come back, but we noticed she will go to work and wouldn’t know how to find her way home and she will call us and be crying that she doesn’t know her way back that someone should come and get her that she doesn’t know where to go, she doesn’t know the right step to take, she’s lost and this is a route she has been taking for many years, and that she doesn’t even know the way to our house.”
Having worked all her life to care for her children, Uriel’s mom had a stroke, caused by high blood pressure which was as a result of stress. At 64 years old, Uriel’s mum can’t walk, can’t cook and she looks older than her age.
“She had a stroke, so from the stroke, she developed this illness, brain damage. Her body is shutting down slowly. Like now, we’re in Nigeria; she doesn’t know where we are. She keeps asking me, are your brothers coming? Are we in London? Then she says, ‘I want to go and see my mother’ and I say, ‘mummy, your mother is dead.’ Yes, but I want to go and see her. So, everything doesn’t make sense to her sometimes.”
The sacrifice of taking care of her mother
Six years ago when Mrs. Blessing was diagnosed with dementia, it was a very traumatic time for her children to grapple with the reality of what may be happening to their mother.
“I was still very young and I still wanted to live my life fully but because of her, I wasn’t able to live my life fully. I started caring for my mum at a very young age when I was supposed to be hanging out with my friends; I was at home looking after my mum.”
As the only female child in the family, the responsibility of caring for her mother fell more on her shoulders and she took it gracefully. To Uriel, it was time to return her mother’s good gestures towards them.
“My mum had a choice. She was 36 and a widow. She had a choice to dump us, in fact, ‘take them back to Nigeria, and let them stay with their father’s people. Let me live my life, I am 36 years old, I can get married again.’ Give us out to my father’s family but she didn’t do that. She hustled, sweated for five children.”
All of this made Uriel determined to care for her mother even if it meant giving up the things that mattered to her.
“There’s been a time when before I entered the big brother house, I was in Nigeria for many years and I actually thought about giving up this dream of being an entertainer and just dedicating my life to looking after my mum. I didn’t care if I wasn’t going to get married, I didn’t care I wasn’t going to have children, I just wanted to do that for my mum. And however long it took for her to pass away; I’ll just dedicate my life to her. Even if I’m 40 or 50 and she goes, I know that I’ve done something.”
But her brothers advised her against it, explaining that she may become depressed or suicidal after their mum has passed and she’s too old to pursue her dreams. Instead, they decided to take turns taking care of her by shuffling her between the UK and Nigeria, while Uriel pursues her dreams.
Recounting what she goes through in taking care of her mother together with her daily activities, Uriel reveals it is hard but one thing keeps her going.
“Like yesterday, she woke up twice to go to the toilet and she can’t really walk so I had to guide her, hold her and walk slowly. Sometimes, as a human being, when someone wakes you up in the morning, you’ll be angry. At 3am, she’ll wake you up. At 5 am in the morning, she’ll wake you up again that she wants to go to the toilet. She can wake you up two to three times in a night, but when I look at her face, I know it’s not her fault. If my mum has the power to get up and go, she will go. Why will she want to trouble her child?”
While she has been advised many times, to put her mom in an old people’s home or get a live-in somebody to care for her, Uriel says she’s uncomfortable with it.
“I said no. As long as I’m here with my mum, I will bath her, change her and do everything. Then, if somebody will just come, maybe come and go. Like now that I’m here with you, someone is with my mum, but as far as cleaning, bathing is concerned, I do everything for her. I don’t allow anybody to touch her food, I don’t like that.”
What the incidence made her realize
Even though they had been told at the hospital that their mother could have a memory loss, Uriel wasn’t expecting it to happen so soon or that her mother would forget that she is her daughter – her only daughter!
Uriel and her mother had just returned from church, so she went into the kitchen to get her some food. By the time she returned from the kitchen, her mother had forgotten who she was.
“She screamed and said, ‘who are you.’ I thought she was joking but she was not. She was scared. She didn’t even allow me to come close to her. She started praying, shouting, then I realized that this is real. She does tend to forget sometimes. She’ll ask me, ‘are you my daughter and I’ll say yes.’ I had to show her pictures and that was it.”
That experience hit her with the hardest realization.
“I realized that I’ve lost the mum I once knew. I realized that I’ve lost a part of my mum I could never get back. That strong woman that I knew, that woman that was fearless, agile, and prayerful. My mum can’t even pray now because the words don’t come to her head, you have to guide her through it. That woman is still my mum; I still see pieces of her but that woman have been replaced with somebody that is almost childlike, somebody that needs comfort, guidance, assistance, and care.”
Her mom’s illness is a huge challenge to her faith and though she was angry at God, she never questioned her faith. She still prays for her healing, hoping it is a test that would end soon.
“My brothers have lost their faith. They no longer believe in God how they used to, how we were taught growing up. They don’t really pray because they believe if God was a merciful God, if God was all those wonderful things, why would he let a woman that has given up so much of her life, even to others, suffer so much.”
Irrespective of the situation, she knows she has to keep on with her faith.
“It’s sad but I see what they are going through and I continue to pray for my brothers, my mum and myself. I am the only girl but I’m the anchor that will keep the family together. I had to take over from where my mum left. My mum is a very prayerful woman. Losing my faith is like everything she fought for religiously didn’t mean anything.”
Going into depression
She had so much on her mind and unable to wrap her head around it or come out of the situation got her depressed.
Her mum’s illness, “I think sometimes, it would be easier to lose your parents and for them to die than to see your mother die slowly in front of you. That one is not a good thing. It’s like torture and you’re deprived of so many things.”
Losing a prospective suitor because of her instability as she had to attend to her mum denied her of getting married when she should have.
Her dreams of being a celebrity when she came into Nigeria seemed delayed and it became more depressing after many years without headway knowing that she had all it took.
“My depression came from having my own insecurities, not being where I wanted to be, having men promising me houses and cars but because of my faith, I always said no and I never understood why I always say no. That thing where, this is not how you were raised was so strong and I couldn’t part away from it. I was just frustrated. I became depressed.”
“My mum was a widow at 36 with five children. So, imagine seeing my mum work hard, nobody ever gave my mum anything. My mum has been a widow since she was 36 and I’ve not seen any man enter my house, I’ve not seen any man say, Blessing, let me give you money for your children. So that is how I grew up. I grew up seeing a strong woman. I grew up seeing a woman hustle. That’s all I know. I don’t know about a man giving me something. All I know is if you want something, work hard for it. I don’t know about opening my legs to somebody for a range rover. Yes, it’s easy but that is not the lifestyle I know.”
She also wants to show young women her struggles behind the glamorous life on social media, which is why she puts up posts about her mum.
“Some people loved it. People were like why am I putting my mum out there like that but at the end of the day I just believe my mum is my mum. If I choose to show her off the way I wanna show her off, that’s it. And why would I now look at her and discard her because I’m ashamed of her because of her illness. It doesn’t make sense to me. I can’t even do that. So, why after everything she’s done for me, all the struggles she struggled for me, why would I now be ashamed of my mum? ”